Welcome to the 31st National Japan Bowl, presented by the Japan-America Society of Washington DC.

Click the headings below to view Speakers, Judges, and the Japan Bowl Council.


Ryan Shaffer
President, Japan-America Society of Washington DC

Ryan Shaffer joined the Japan America Society of Washington DC as President in February of 2019.  He previously served as Director of Programs and Development at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, where he oversaw integration of programmatic efforts to advance shared interests in U.S. relations with Japan and other NE Asian Partners. 

Mr. Shaffer was the founding director of the U.S.-Japan Space Forum and the U.S.-Japan Nuclear Working Group and has produced a variety of publications on the topics.  Prior to joining the Mansfield Foundation, Mr. Shaffer served as a research analyst for the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan. 

Mr. Shaffer, who was raised in Portland, Maine, has an MSc in Asian politics from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and a BS in environmental policy from Bates College.  Mr. Shaffer, a proud resident of the District of Columbia, sits on the Board of Directors of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.  Mr. Shaffer also serves on the Board of Directors of the Western Pacific Fellowship Project.

Elece Smith
Director, National Japan Bowl

Elece Smith joined the Japan-America Society of Washington DC as a Program Assistant in 2021 and was promoted to Japan Bowl and Educational Programs Director in 2022. Ms. Smith was born and raised in Bowie, Maryland where her interest in Japan piqued at her local library when she began reading the magical girl manga Tokyo Mew Mew in the 4th grade. In high school she began studying Japanese and participating in the National Japan Bowl and Japanese National Honor Society. She went on to receive her B.A. in Japanese and Anthropology in 2020 from the University of Maryland, and in 2019 she studied abroad at Waseda University where she earned a Japanese Language Program Certificate.

Ms. Smith brings an eclectic array of educational programming, communications, and customer service experience to the Society alongside her deep interest in Japanese language and cultural affairs. Prior to joining the Society, she worked as a Social Media Coordinator and Student Coordinator at the University of Maryland Honors College, freelance entertainment writer for Diamondback News, and as a Library Circulation and Information Assistant in several library systems across the DC Metropolitan Area.  She previously worked with JASWDC as a Sakura Matsuri volunteer and as a Japan Bowl intern.

Ms. Smith loves books, stationery, and Japanese indie music and is currently trying to learn how to do sashiko, a Japanese embroidery technique often used for visible mending.

Brian Walters
National Japan Bowl Emcee

Brian Walters is a bilingual and bicultural half Japanese/half German-American actor and host. Raised on a US military base in Yokosuka, he got his start on NHK's "Tensai Terebi Kun". Since moving to NYC, Brian has been seen in numerous commercials, TV Shows/Movies (Ash Ketchum in Epic Rap Battles, Blue Bloods, HBO's Lisey's Story). He has MCed for the Japan Society, Uniqlo, Yame Tea, and is honored to host the National Japan Bowl and the DC Sakura Festival for a 2nd year this weekend. You can catch Brian hosting BATSU! weekly in NYC since 2012 and his show will also be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August! You can follow him @MrBrianWalters.

Erika Moritsugu
White House Deputy Assistant to the President, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Senior Liaison

Erika was appointed by President Joe Biden in April 2021 to serve as Deputy Assistant to the President and AA (Asian American) and NHPI (Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander) Senior Liaison. At the White House, Erika supports the Administration on a wide array of the President’s priorities and engages with AA and NHPI communities and leaders on important issues such as advancing safety, justice, inclusion, and opportunity for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities through a whole-of-government approach to racial justice.

Her past government service includes serving as the Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations at the Department of Housing and Urban Development under the leadership of Secretary Julián Castro in the Obama Administration and was the first-ever Senate Deputy Legislative Director at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

On Capitol Hill, she was a senior representative of Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. Senator Daniel K. Akaka of Hawai’i, and at the Senate Democratic Policy Committee under Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

In the non-profit sector, Erika managed two teams the National Partnership for Women & Families for economic justice and congressional relations advancing workforce and health policies focused through a gender equity and race equity lens. Erika has also led the Government Relations, Advocacy and Community Engagement team at the Anti-Defamation League, a leading anti-hate organization.

Koichi Ai
Minister of Chancery and Public Affairs at the Embassy of Japan

Koichi Ai has been the Minister and Head of Chancery at the Embassy of Japan since his arrival in Washington in June 2021. His main responsibility in this capacity is the overall management and coordination of the Embassy’s functions. Since September 1, 2022, he also heads the Public Affairs, covering both the press matters and the cultural affairs.

Mr. Ai joined the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1989. He has served in such oversea posts as Washington, D.C. (1992), Ottawa (2002), Jakarta (2005), New York (2013), and Paris (2018) before coming to Washington. In Paris, he was the Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the OECD for three years and served on the Executive Committee of the Organization as its Vice Chair.

At the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, he has served as Counsel for Treaties Negotiation; Director, Law of the Sea Division; Director, Policy Planning Division; and Director, International Economy Division. His wide-ranging diplomatic experience covers trade negotiations with both the U.S. and the E.U. as well as long term strategic planning of Japan’s foreign policy. Six-year assignment as an official English interpreter for Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers earlier in his career gave him unique perspectives on high-level diplomacy.

Before his assignment in Paris, he served as the Director General (Acting) at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, the premier foreign policy think-tank in Tokyo, presiding over the intellectual direction of its activities.

Educated at the University of Tokyo (Law), Mr. Ai holds Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (1992). More recently, he was an Associate of the Program on U.S.-Japan Relations at Harvard University for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Mr. Ai is a licensed private pilot, scuba diving instructor, and large format photography enthusiast. He has certificates to teach Japanese traditional arts of ikebana (Sogetsu) and tea ceremony (Omotesenke).

John R. Malott
Former US Ambassador, JASWDC Counselor

Ambassador John R. Malott‘s professional career in the US Foreign Service and as a non-profit executive focused on Asia.  During his 31-year career in the US Department of State, he served as US Ambassador to Malaysia;  Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs; US Consul General in Osaka and economic officer at the US Embassy in Tokyo; Deputy US Consul General in Mumbai;  US Consul in Kobe, Japan; Director of the Office of Japanese Affairs in Washington; and civilian advisor during the Vietnam War.  After retirement from the State Department, he served for twelve years as President of the Japan-America Society of Washington DC.  In 2017 the Emperor of Japan awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun with Gold Rays and Neck Ribbon for his contribution to US-Japan relations over the course of four decades. 

Ambassador Malott is a graduate of Northwestern University and the National War College.   

Championship Round Judges

Koichi Ai
Minister of Chancery and Public Affairs at the Embassy of Japan
Mari Hamada
Lecturer, University of Maryland College Park Japan Program

Lecturer, School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
Lecturer, Japanese

Kazuyo Kato
Executive Director of Japan Center for International Exchange USA
Masaru Takagi
Bureau Chief, NHK
Yoshiko Tsuda
Instructor at the Nishiura Style Calligraphy School
Japan Bowl Council

Louisa Rubinfien
Sufumi So
Peggy Breer
Yoko Lawless
Takae Tsujioka
Yoshiko Mori
Robin Berrington
Sang-Mi McHale
Akane Shirata
Kirsten Jensen
Bill Brooks
Juliane Doscher
Tomoko Hoogenboom

For more information about the National Japan Bowl, visit https://japanbowl.org/